South Coast Plaza is considered one of the premiere shopping centers in the world in retailing circles; Fashion Island a ritzy outdoor destination that showcases the wealthy, coastal lifestyle.
Amid these retail heavyweights, The Shops at Mission Viejo, remodeled in 1999, continues to carve Alain Silberstein Sport Krono Bauhaus AS-8 its own upscale shopping niche.
Nike Women is opening a store at the center, as is Babystyle, a high-end boutique for maternity and baby clothes. Apple opened in February, and Saks Fifth Avenue began selling furniture there this spring.
Retailers say they like the demographics -- high incomes and families with children -- and the growth from new communities such as Ladera Ranch.
The average household income within a four-mile radius of the shopping Alain Silberstein Tourbillon Marine Blue Sea AS-10 is $107,993, the second highest around a shopping center in the county after $118,653 for Fashion Island in Newport Beach, according to data compiled by shopping center consultant Gregory Stoffel from Claritas, Inc.
Nearby residents are highly educated. About 43 percent have a bachelor degree or higher, which is also second to Fashion Island with 54 percent.
Shoppers say they love having quality stores and restaurants in their own backyard, mall features such as fountains and comfy leather sofas, that the mall isn't too big, and the open, airy feel.
"South Coast Plaza is a very nice mall, but I'm not going to go to stores like Alain Silberstein Tourbillon Marine Blue Sea AS-9 everyday," said Fawn Gonick, 32, of Mission Viejo, who was shopping with her 2-year-old twins and a friend. "Here I go to Gap, Nordstrom, Pottery Barn Kids. Normal stuff." The success of The Shops at Mission Viejo shows that "South Orange County is coming of age," said Stoffel, of Gregory Stoffel & Associates in Irvine.
And while the mall doesn't draw shoppers from as far away as Palos Verdes and West Los Angeles like South Coast or Fashion Island -- Shops executives say the primary customer lives 5 to 10 miles away -- it has carved out its own niche as a convenient alternative with quality stores, Stoffel said.
A good portion of South County shoppers still visit South Coast Plaza for the Baume & Mercier CapeLand Quartz Chronograph BM-1, said Stoffel, who has studied the issue for retail clients.
Many retailers have flagship stores at South Coast Plaza that carry more merchandise than stores elsewhere. In fact, South Coast Plaza has logged double digit sales gains in the last 12 months and had its best year ever in 2003, said Debra Gunn Downing, executive director of marketing.
But shoppers will also head to The Shops when time is an issue.
Girl Mania, a four-store chain that carries clothing and hosts parties for preteen girls, opened at The Shops because so many customers were trekking to its Fashion Island store.
"We wanted those same people to become more regular customers," said General Manager Louise Wallace.
Apple also wanted to be closer to its South Orange County customers and Baume & Mercier Rivera BM-17 its Mission Viejo store has not cannibalized sales from Fashion Island and South Coast Plaza locations.
"We love Orange County," said Ron Johnson, senior vice president of retail.